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Popeye

         Popeye the Sailor Man started as a comic strip by Elzie Crisler Segar, in 1929. It was syndicated by Hearst-owned King Features Syndicate. Born in Illinois, Segar started cartooning in Chicago, then graduated to his own strip for the Chicago American. He was hired by the New York Evening Journal in 1919 to create the "Thimble Theater", highlighting the adventures of Ham Gravy, his girlfriend Olive Oyl, and Olive's brother, Castor Oyl..   On January 17, 1929, Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl wanted to hire some sailors to search for the legendary Whiffle Hen, and so they walked up to Popeye. The sailor had one eye, smoked a corncob pipe, had overly thick forearms, muttered constantly to himself, had no teeth, was inarticulate and often subject to fits of frustration, even though he was driven by a heart of gold and unwavering morality. Olive Oyl made the wisecracking sailor her new boyfriend, and within a few months Popeye became the central character in the search for the "Whiffle Hen." When Segar ended the episode and tried to dispense with the sailor, angry fans contacted the paper and wanted more. As a result, Popeye replaced Ham as Olive's boyfriend. Castor Oyl almost completely disappeared, and the strip was renamed, "Thimble Theater, Starring Popeye." During the 1930s, cartoon characters were becoming major stars, with the likes of Mickey Mouse from Walt Disney, Betty Boop from the Fleischman studios, and Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies from Warner Brothers. It was Max and Dave Fleischer who approached King Features Syndicate for the right to develop Popeye on screen. The companies signed an agreement on November 17, 1932. 


      It was Betty Boop who presented Popeye the Sailor to cinema audiences in 1933, as part of the Betty Boop cartoons, during which the sailor sang his trademark song, "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man." Much of the drama in the series was the competition between Bluto and Popeye for the attention of Olive, usually demonstrated by feats of strength. Where the Segar stories were complex and followed unexpected directions, the Fleischer stories followed standard conventions, making the characters fundamentally predictable. The cartoons were an enormous success. The strong characterization, the ad-libbed dialogue from Popeye and Olive Oyl, especially the muttered asides that Popeye was famous for all contributed to a major success for the Fleischer Studios, so much so that by 1938, Popeye had replaced Mickey Mouse as the most popular cartoon character in the U.S.A. Here was a down-to-earth character who represented Americans themselves. He was a man who could be pushed and bullied, until he couldn't take it any more and would fight back against his foes. He never initiated violence, but would not step down from a fight started by someone else. The Fleischers went through the old Segar strips to produce other characters including J. Wellington Wimpy, Swee'pea, Eugene the Jeep and Poopdeck Pappy. In the cartoon strip, Popeye acquired his powers by rubbing the Whiffle Hen, but the Fleischers made the eating of spinach the source of his power. For this, appreciative American farmers set up a statue of Popeye for helping promote the otherwise unpopular vegetable.


        The early 1960s saw a simpler reprising of the Popeye and friends, and later on, Popeye was turned into flesh and blood by Robert Altman, starring Robin Williams as Popeye and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. The movie produced much memorable music and some of the action that rivaled the original Fleischman cinema shorts. 

 



 


 

 


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